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Walking the walk

As we said last year when the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance first took its list of network grievances to the FCC, inviting the government to police network/affiliate relations is a bad idea in search of a worse result. Rather than recruiting the FCC as some 800-pound enforcer, stations need to concede that the dynamics have changed and use their marketplace muscle.

For example, CBS was repeating Amazing Race II
on co-owned UPN less than 48 hours after its CBS play. Affiliates balked in numbers too big to ignore; the net backed down.

Now WJXT(TV) Jacksonville, Fla., is dropping its CBS affiliation after more than half a century. By doubling news and offering top-drawer syndicated programming, says Post-Newsweek President Alan Frank, WJXT will eventually do at least as well as an independent as it did as a CBS affiliate, although it will miss those Jaguar games on NFL Sundays. WJXT is Jacksonville's dominant station. Its loss diminishes CBS.

Frank's bold move suggests that affiliates, at least ones as strong as WJXT, have an alternative to either taking what the network dishes out or running to the government for help. It's a shame that long-standing partnerships go bad, but, ultimately, a station's power to walk away is its best leverage. Stations ought to make sure they are strong enough to do it. Perhaps even Frank, who spearheaded the NASA petition, will agree.

Scarcity of rationales

The FCC is beating a path to the woodshed, with the D.C. Court of Appeals holding it firmly by the ear. The court, which earlier threw out the cable/broadcast crossownership rules and remanded the 35% cap on audience reach, last week sent back the FCC's duopoly rule, saying it is "capricious and arbitrary." Although the court stopped short of vacating the rule or driving a nail through the heart of the scarcity argument, it is only a matter of time before the commission is forced to concede that it has been turning a deaf ear to a lot of voices when measuring a market's diversity of outlets.

If the court hasn't made its voice clear enough, some messages the FCC should hear are:

The congressionally mandated biennial review of the FCC's regulations presupposes further deregulation unless the commission offers a clear justification for maintaining a rule. The commission cannot, as one judge wanting the court to go even further put it, "simply cry 'diversity!' and thus avoid meaningful appellate review." Having used a more inclusive voice test in its justification for loosening radio/TV crossownership, a test that included radio, newspapers and cable, the FCC cannot pretend those voices suddenly don't exist.

We expect the FCC would be getting the newspaper crossownership ban handed back to it were it not in the middle of rulemaking on the issue. Best to throw out that ban now, and save the wear and tear on the ears.